We live in a world where so much focus is placed on action, movement, and progress. The same world often responds by giving us chaos, frustration and stress. And although being dynamic does bring fast development, knowledge, relationships, experiences and opportunities, it can also be overwhelming.
That’s especially true when we’re a going through a stressful period. Whether we’ve gone through something that has hurt us, like losing a person or a job, or we’re simply not able to focus our ideas and thoughts, fighting stress with even more stress won’t be helpful.
If you are feeling this way, and you can’t find that calmness within, maybe it’s time to stop trying, to stop moving, to simply, stop.
As simple as that sounds, mastering the art of stillness is not always simple, particularly if you’re coming from an entirely opposite state. However, it is possible, and more than beneficial - it will not only allow you to recover and replenish, but also to access your deeper inner wisdom, and to reach a state of calmness and awareness. In turn, you will receive answers on what to focus on and how to proceed forward.
Stillness in Yoga
In yoga, we’re taught there are three qualities that simultaneously play in the universe, tamas which represents ignorance and stagnation, rajas which resonates with hyperactivity and action, and sattva which corresponds with a complete sense of awareness and calmness.
When we’re discussing stillness which helps overcome stress, we’re not talking about tamas, or laziness, staleness or stagnation. We’re referring to the sattva principle, which means being still but also being present and aware. This is true stillness, which also brings true mindfulness.
Coming to this state isn’t easy in this day and age, and that’s where yogic mindfulness, meditation and other techniques come into play.
On their own, they help to physically aid in reducing and managing stress. When we talk about chaos versus stillness within our bodies, they also manifest as our Sympathetic (chaos) and Parasympathetic (stillness) Nervous Systems. When we’re going through a period of increased stress, or deal with the “fight or flight” response, our Sympathetic system is more active. On the other hand, when we’re resting and recovering, the activity of the Parasympathetic System is elevated. Yoga techniques connect us to the Parasympathetic Nervous System, and in this sense, they physically bring us to a state of calmness, stillness and relaxation.
Meanwhile, they also have a greater purpose, which comes with continuous dedication to practice - they lead us in a direction of self-discovery, mastery and realization.
Therefore, we can expect both an immediate effect when we decide to learn stillness through yoga, but also a long term one, which will help us remain calm even when we proceed to tackle the challenges and the speed of everyday life.
Yoga Techniques That Teach Stillness
There are countless techniques in yoga which can teach us stillness and allow us to better manage and cope with stress.
However, try to approach these with stillness as well - instead of being active, searching for the perfect technique, trying to refine it and master it, simply choose the first one that calls you, and do your own personal version of it, or the one that’s easiest for you.
For example, breathing exercises can be one of the most powerful techniques to release all that chaotic, stressful energy and to return within, to quiet your body and your thoughts. If breathing invites you, you don’t have to learn a specific breath work technique - simply begin calming and slowing your breath right now.
Restorative and Yin yoga also teach stillness by incorporating long pose holds and static, passive stretches. If coming to stillness through physical practice attracts you, you don’t need to learn anything about these styles before you try them. Perhaps, only sit in one pose you enjoy for a couple of minutes or turn on a beginner video on YouTube and let that guide you into that place of surrender and silence.
Meditation is yet another method which teaches us to be still, both in our bodies and in our minds. But you don’t need to learn a specific technique. Maybe only sit down and fix your gaze on a point in a wall, focus on your breath, or play a guided meditation. If you can’t silence your thoughts - simply allow them to be. Observing thoughts is much closer to the sattva, conscious energy we discussed above, than fighting them or feeling guilty of not being able to quiet them.
By surrendering in this manner, by not trying to be perfect in something, by allowing someone else to guide you, you are already learning how to be still, how to come into that place of receiving, instead of taking the leading role, trying to control every step in advance. This approach will be helpful not only because you’ll be able to learn stillness right away, at this moment, but may also teach you that you are allowed to have the same relaxed mindset in all other aspects of your life.
Come into a meeting not perfectly prepared, let a loved one know you don’t have the energy to fight, allow yourself to accept help when needed, and return it only when it comes from the heart. Focus your attention within and try being mindful. Like with most spiritual principles, stillness mainly comes down to enjoying the present moment, and simply soaking up everything that comes through our senses, without the need to try changing, judging or analyzing anything.
As soon as you begin to be easier towards yourself in this manner, all the stress you are creating yourself will slowly dissipate, and the stress that comes from others will be much easier to manage, accept and overcome.